Mississippi Voters Reject Education Funding Initiative 42


Mississippi voters have rejected Initiative 42, a constitutional amendment that would have offered more funding for the public school system after advocates charge that it has been underfunded for 18 years.

According to unofficial results, the amendment did not receive a majority vote required to change the constitution.  Unofficial results show 54% had voted against a change to the state constitution.

If the measure had passed, the state constitution would have changed to require the state to offer adequate and efficient funding for the public school system.  The chancery court would also be given the ability to enforce that ruling.  The courts would be able to use the MAEP, the formula that determines the amount of money is necessary for school districts to provide a quality education for students, in order to decide how much funding is “adequate,” writes Kate Royals for The Clarion-Ledger.

Since the formula was adopted, lawmakers have granted the full amount necessary within two election years.  This year saw the budget short by $200 million, causing the shortfall, which has been increasing since 2008 to total $1.7 billion.

However, voters in the state appeared to agree with Republican leaders who did not want to allow judicial oversight of legislative spending decisions.

“Parents and grandparents want to keep decisions over their children’s education in the hands of their local school boards and elected officials,” said Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, one of Initiative 42’s prime opponents.

Currently, the state constitution requires that a free public school system is offered by the Legislature “upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe,” which offers generous wiggle room for lawmakers.  No mention of the quality of education that must be provided is offered. Mississippi is one of the only states that does not mention a benchmark for quality.

More money was spent on the initiative than ever before in the state, with supporters raising over $3 million.  Out-of-state charities were responsible for most of the contributions, with the majority of the money coming from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, former Secretary of State Dick Molpus and former FedEx executive Jim Barksdale.

Meanwhile, only $300,000 was raised by opponents.  However, GOP officials including Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn stood up against the initiative, saying it would offer too much control to judges over the state budget.

“This is the greatest transfer of political power in the state’s history,” Bryant said

An alternative question was also placed on the ballot by Republican lawmakers, which asked for the creation of “effective” schools without giving courts the ability to appeal.  The move caused some confusion, as the ballot became a two-part affair requiring supporters to vote for either 42 or 42A and then to choose one of the options.

Despite this, voters still reported feeling compelled to finish the ballot.  Ernest Davis, a Tougaloo College student, said he voted for the initiative because his high school had not had the books and computers necessary for success.